Managing our Scout Camps

How to ensure camps are an asset, not a burden

By Scouter Liam Morland, April 28, 2004

At the Scouts Canada Central Division Conference on April 17, 2004, Scouters who attended the "Properties and Camps" session were asked to provide input into the process for reviewing Ontario’s Scout Camps.

They wanted ideas relating to:

A few things are clear regarding camps. The only justification for owning camps is how they help us achieve the Mission of Scouting. Properties must not be a burden. They appear as an asset on a balance sheet and they must be managed so that they are an asset to our Movement.

Assessing Scout Camps

A "score card" approach to assessing the value of Scout camps seems reasonable: assign points to desirable characteristics and sell camps that have the fewest points. On the surface, this appears to be an ideal solution. Points can be given for the facilities like cabins and obstacle course. Better cabins or more program facilities would get more points.

This simplistic assessment method hides the true complexity of the camp assessment problem. In an points-based system, a cabin with running water, electric lighting, and central heating would score better than a rustic cabin with a kybo out back, hooks in the ceiling to hang lanterns, and a wood stove. But which cabin is actually better? A person holding a Beaver sleep-over or a Pack Wood Badge course would be better off in the first cabin. However, a Scout troop out for a winter camp would be much better off in the second cabin.

Likewise, a points-based system would give more points to a camp which boosts many program facilities. For example, Woodland Trails Scout Camp has a mountain bike course, high ropes course, and many other facilities. Great Scout programs can be offered there. But great Scout programs can also be offered at camps without any facilities. If the focus of the weekend is Scoutcraft skills or survival, then program facilities take away from the experience. This sort of program is best done in the wilderness of an "undeveloped" Scout camp.

Another assessment variable that has been discussed is whether camps are operating at "capacity". What does this mean in the context of a Scout camp? If the weekend's event is a large camporee, then many camps have a capacity approaching 1000 people. But one does not always want this sort of program. If a troop wants a wilderness experience where they will build shelters and cook over fires, then the capacity for large a camp is two, maybe three troops. The very fact that a camp has many unbooked campsites is a feature. A balanced Scout program needs to combine large camporees with small section camps. Our facilities must allow for this.

Ultimately, there is no score card that can tell us whether or not a property is valuable to Scouting. Trying to use one will create conflict between the Incorporated Body and local Scouting. By what right does a provincial body tell members of Scouting that their local camp is of "little or no value"? If a property is home to quality Scouting, then it is of value.

Camps must not be a Burden

Even if a campsite is home to quality Scouting, this does not excuse it being a burden. Camps have the potential to be expensive to operate, both in terms of money and volunteer time. We must not allow providing camps to take precedence over providing Scouting.

When a camp becomes a burden, one can take the easy way out and sell it or one can seek creative solutions to the problem. Often, camps become a burden when facilities have to be upgraded in order to meet modern standards. For example, a camp water supply may not meet modern health standards. Inside-the-box thinking would tell us that we must drill a new well or otherwise upgrade the water system. A creative solution would start by asking if we need a camp water supply. Many Scout camps have no drinking water supply. Groups bring water from home.

Many other camp problems can be solved in a similar way. If we can't afford to repaint the pool, close it. If a cabin has an unsafe floor, stop taking bookings for it. It is far better to have a camp without luxurious facilities then no camp at all. And as I noted above, camps without facilities are better for many sorts of Scouting programs.

Getting Creative Solutions

How do we get the creative solutions needed to make properties viable? In the past, camps were operated by Districts and Regions. Districts and Regions had many responsibilities to discharge. Camps often ended up being neglected or at least did not receive as much attention as they needed. Amalgamation has give Councils many camps to look after. With so many camps to worry about, attention is further divided and it becomes easy to use some simplistic calculation to justify closing a camp.

Creative camping solutions come when a group of people are committed to making a camp be the best it can be. Each property (or group of related properties) should have its own management committee elected by those who use the property or have an interest in it. This committee would be able to direct all its attention towards making the property an excellent Scouting facility, ensuring that it complies with standards, and breaks even.

This is the model that is used many parts of Europe. The result is a very well developed network of Scout camping facilities. They have an annual European Scout Centre Managers' Conference were they share ideas and discuss issues relating to managing Scout facilities. While they co-operate extensively, they are also aware that if they let the quality of their camp decline, Scout groups will choose to go elsewhere. This friendly "competition" encourages continual improvements to facilities.

Dealing with Non-compliance and Non-response

It is essential that all Scouts Canada properties be well managed. Scouts Canada must be confident that all properties are compliant with relevant regulations, operated for the benefit of Scouting, operated within Scouting's Principles, and economically viable. Failure in these regards may put Scouts Canada in an unacceptable position of risk.

To succeed in ensuring that all properties are well managed, the Incorporated Body will have to engage the co-operation of the local property managers. They will have to take a collaborative approach. Confrontation or threats will only create a defensive response. Local property managers must be confident that the Incorporated Body is acting in the best interests of local Scouting and that they will not attempt to impose their view of Scouting.

The best way to ensure that properties are well managed is to give full responsibility for property management to a local committee/association, as described above. The committee must have a clear set of guidelines with which to work towards compliance. Committees must be involved in writing the guidelines. If they are not, they may see them as an unreasonable imposition and will fight their implementation. The committees must have a free hand to find creative solutions that are needed to comply with the guidelines.

If, after all this, it becomes apparent that the local committee is not fulfilling its duties, then another committee should be found which will fulfil the duties. Obviously, this is the last resort after repeated warnings have been ignored.

This approach can be taken with the issue of non-response on the present properties survey. If a property manager has ignored a reasonable request for information, then a new committee should be formed to manage the property.

The formation of a camp management committee must be an open process. Any users of the camp who are interested must be part of electing the committee. Such a public process would engage the interest of volunteers and donors. We seem to assume in Scouting that volunteers start at the section level and move from there. Why not have some volunteers start by getting involved in running our camps? As well, donors will be interested in donating to the camps if they can participate in the election of the committee that will spend the funds.

If, after a public process, there are not enough interested people to form a camp committee, then this should be taken as evidence that Scouting members are not interested in the property and that it should be sold.

Appeal Process for Sale

The approach above has a built-in appeal process. A property would not move towards sale unless an open process has shown that there is insufficient interest to run the property. If this is the case, then a critical, final look at the property should be taken. Scouts Canada must not inadvertently divest itself of properties that may be valuable in the future.

Ontario Council Procedure ONT-003 (revised 2001) requires that a decision to sell real estate must be approved by a vote of the general membership of Scouts Canada. So, if no one can be found to form a committee to operate a given piece of property, a final look has found that the property will not be of value in the future, and Scouts Canada's general membership supports the sale, then it should be sold. If the vote does not approve sale, then the property cannot be sold and remains unused. So long as there are no known traps on the property, this does not create a liability problem.


Camps are the lifeblood of Scouting. Scouting's focus on outdoor activities and wilderness experiences are what make Scouting different from other youth activities. Non-Scouting facilities seldom permit the freedom to run night games, build shelters and pioneering project, and forage in the woods for firewood. We will have success in attracting members by offering something young people can't get elsewhere. We depend on Scout camps to provide these unique programs.

To bring these programs to life, we depend on volunteers. Most work directly with the young people in the section. Others manage and operate our camps. Successful programs depend on have a volunteer base that is energized about making Scouting work. To achieve this, the volunteers must make the decisions that effect them. Nothing is more demoralizing then having no control over decision-making and just being told what to do. Volunteer leave when they are treated like this. Our membership figures show that we lost about one-quarter of our adult membership from 2002 to 2003. There is a message here.

Just as our Scouts plan their camp menus within nutrition guidelines, our volunteers must be allowed to mange the camps within health and other applicable regulations. Giving them a free hand to do this will generate creative solutions which will ensure that our camps are first-rate Scouting facilities.

Our Scout camps are a legacy that has been left to us by previous generations of Scouts. They are irreplaceable. Any camp that is sold cannot be replaced since property values rise and cities grow. We must keep our windows of wilderness close to our homes where we can use them. If our goal is to increase membership, we need our camps.